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Legacy Technology
Updated February 2013

APS, 110, “Disc,” and Formats du Jour

It used to be that every decade or so Kodak would come out with a new film format calculated to sell lots of cameras and film to snapshooters spooked by the apparent complexity of roll-film and 35mm cameras. They started with the Kodapak (126) cartridge and Instamatic cameras in 1963, went on to the Pocket Instamatic (110) cartridge in 1972, and then unleashed the abominable Disc Camera in 1982. For what was apparently the final go-around, Kodak realized that they could no longer dictate formats by themselves. So in 1996 they joined with leading Japanese camera makers to develop the “Advanced Photo System,” or APS.

At first glance APS seems appealing. It’s based on a little cartridge that holds 24mm-wide film. You just drop it into the camera, which lets you select any of three different sizes of print for each picture. After processing, the negatives are safely sealed in the little cartridge, so you don’t have to worry about handling negatives.

But a closer look reveals few real advantages over 35mm. The most recent 35mm cameras also have simple loading. Before they got out of the 35mm camera market, Kodak sold a line of inexpensive EasyLoad 35mm cameras that, as the name implies, were as easy to load as APS. APS cameras can be very small and light, but not much more so than the smallest 35mm point-and-shoots. APS film and processing also cost more than 35mm.

Most of the touted advantages of APS really aren’t advantages at all. While modern films allow decent small prints from 24mm negatives, you’re still sacrificing image quality. It may not matter much if you only put the 10x15cm prints in your photo album, but it may become significant if you ever want to enlarge some of your favorite pictures.

A more serious problem relates to the “advantage” of having negatives in the cartridge after processing. While this may prevent possible damage from handling, it also prevents you from easily looking at the negatives. Since the quality of photofinishing in the U.S. is far too often inexcusably atrocious, it’s essential to be able to examine negatives so you can tell whether the fault is with the camera or with the lab. It’s much easier to demand a new print when you can show the clerk that the dark, gray “underexposed” picture was actually a nice dense negative. There’s no easy way to do that with APS. Processors do provide an “index print” with thumbnail images of each frame as a way to select pictures for re-printing, but many labs also offer this for 35mm. It’s convenient enough to be worth getting.

Aside from the technical concerns, I have other misgivings about snapshooter formats du jour. Back in 1972, I thought the 110 Pocket Instamatic was a good idea. The top-of-the-line Pocket Instamatic 60 was a clever little camera with a rangefinder and a sharp f/2.7 lens. While the 16mm Kodacolor II negative film wasn’t so great— grain was visible even on the standard small prints— Kodachrome-X (and later, Kodachrome 64) showed that the format was capable of very good image quality. The slides, in special 30x30mm plastic mounts intended for cute, tiny Pocket Carousel slide trays, had amazing sharpness and impact when projected on a large screen in a special Pocket Carousel projector. (Read more about the history of the Pocket Instamatic.) The pictures in my Europe Through the Front Door galleries were all made from 1970s-era 110 Kodachrome slides. Two very nice pictures of the Pont du Gard (#1 and #2) in France, as well as a picture of the Hana Highway on Maui, were also made from 110 slides.

Kodak discontinued the Pocket Carousel projectors in 1980, and discontinued all 110 slide film in 1982. A few years later the unique “Size K” battery for the original Pocket Instamatic cameras disappeared. I have a large collection of 110 slides in obsolete trays, which can only be projected in one obsolete projector for which neither replacement bulbs nor repairs are readily available. My Pocket Instamatic 60 camera became completely useless more than two decades ago, when its battery died and could not be replaced. But there really is no reason to use it. A 35mm point-and-shoot is more versatile, yields far better image quality, and isn’t much larger or heavier. And a modern “shirt pocket” compact digital camera is even smaller and lighter than a Pocket Instamatic, which was too long to fit in a shirt pocket.

Kodak stopped making Disc film in 1998, and discontinued 126 film in 1999. Disc film is completely extinct, and not missed by anyone. 126 became extinct in April 2007 (after 44 years) when Ferrania discontinued Solaris FG200, the last available 126 film. 110 became extinct sometime in 2009 when Kodak quietly discontinued MAX Versatility 400, the last 110 film on the market (but see below).

Kodak discontinued their APS film in 2010. Fuji discontinued their Nexia 400 APS film in July 2011, thereby apparently finalizing the extinction of that format.

APS probably passed into the “legacy technology” category in 2002. Each December, Popular Photography magazine includes an annual “Top Cameras” guide that’s a pretty good cross-section of the current market. The last time any APS camera appeared there was in 2001. APS SLRs are no longer made, and the small digital camera has completely replaced the APS (and 35mm) point-and-shoot.

Some Pocket Instamatic and 126 Resources

I have an article about Scanning 110-Format Film (and Kodachrome), with tips and information based on my experience scanning numerous Kodachrome slides for the Europe Through the Front Door pages. I also discuss the available options for scanning 110 negatives.

The big-name film manufacturers have all abandoned the 110 format. After Fuji and Ferrania discontinued their 110 films, Kodak’s MAX Versatility 400 became the “last film standing.” Kodak seems to have discontinued it sometime in 2009, without any announcement or publicity. The only statement I’ve seen from Kodak is buried in the “Consumer Products Support” section of their Web site. An “answer” to the (in)frequently asked question Where can I buy 110 film? published in July 2011 officially (and belatedly) acknowledges that the film was discontinued.

For some years Frugal Photographer offered a dwindling stock of fresh or cold-stored 110 Fuji Superia 200, discontinued in 2004, and Ferrania’s Solaris FG200 (ISO 200, 24 exposures), discontinued in December 2008 when Ferrania exited the film business. But those supplies have run out. What they’re now able to offer are dwindling scraps from beneath the bottom of the barrel: Long-outdated assorted remnants from various manufacturers, with claimed performance ranging from “unpredictable” to “seriously deteriorated.”

Frugal Photographer also stockpiled the 126 Ferrania Solaris film before its discontinuation, but that supply is now exhausted.

The specialty vendor Lomography is now attempting to revive the 110 format as part of their range of “exciting analogue photography and lifestyle products.” Their first 110 film was Lomography B&W Orca, an ISO 100 black and white film that began shipping in May 2012. At $7.90 per 24-exposure roll (plus shipping), this is definitely a niche product. The film also lacks the backing paper that protects it from light leaks, and that would also normally display the current frame number through a cut-out window in the back of the cartridge. (The Orca cartridges do not have a window.) According to the Web page for the film, “each frame will need to be counted manually because the spool does not stop when the film is done. Also, the last 4 photos on each 24 frame roll might have some light leaks.”

Lomography has since expanded their range of 110 offerings. Lomography Color Tiger is an ISO 200 color negative film that does have backing paper and frame number window, so it should be compatible with all 110 cameras. It’s also $7.90 per 24-exposure roll, or $17.90 for a 3-pack. Lomography Peacock is an ISO 200 color slide film. It costs $12.90, and raises several interesting questions. First, the odd speed means many 110 cameras (including the original Pocket Instamatics) will not be able to expose it correctly without special manipulation, such as placing a customized neutral density filter over the lens. Second, although the film uses the standard E-6 process, users who don’t process it themselves will probably have difficulty finding a lab that can handle 16mm film— and even more difficulty mounting the processed film for projection or scanning. Lomography seems to have intended Peacock for cross-processing in the C-41 chemistry meant for color negative film, yielding prints with distinctive “artistically” distorted colors. A local mini-lab probably won’t have the hardware for 16mm film, but any of the large wholesale labs that provide film processing for big-box stores should be able to process this film (or Color Tiger) in C-41.

The last Lomography film would have probably been described as “off the wall” during the heyday of 110. Lomography Lobster Redscale is a color negative film that renders everything in shades of red and orange. I can’t imagine a use for such a thing, but it fits the aesthetic values that Lomography represents. The company supports and takes its name from the “alternative photography” movement that began in the 1990s with the artistic use of cheap plastic cameras, notably the Chinese Diana and the Russian Lomo.

The German film manufacturer ADOX has a German-language Web page (with a partial English translation) describing their current efforts to obtain tooling for making 126 cartridges. They state that the film is “out of production,” and that the “earliest date for a possible re-evaluation of the situation is at the end of 2012 when we have set up all other confectioning areas in our factory.” (Will they also offer sugar-free film for diabetics?)

ADOX is also working on a 110 color negative film (this page is in English). They claim to have made some progress, but too many technical and economic unknowns remain to provide any availability date. (“It might be the summer it might be the fall it might be the end of the year of next year.”) They also hint at a “Pocket-Films (110)” version of their black and white PAN 400, a resurrected version of Agfa’s APX 400.

While you’re waiting for ADOX (or Godot), you might try reloading old 126 cartridges with 35mm film. You could also reload old 110 cartridges with 16mm movie film, or cut down your favorite 35mm film. The original Pocket Instamatic cameras rely on the one-per-frame perforations of real 110 film to lock the film advance thumb slider when a frame is properly positioned. One work-around is to cut a notch in right side of the bottom lip of the cartridge, avoiding the little button that the cartridge presses when the camera is loaded. This is illustrated in a photo.net forum discussion (which also includes my post with the full text of the e-mail I received from Kodak technical support about the availability of 110 film in July 2009). When the button isn’t pressed (usually when the camera isn’t loaded), the film advance slider will not lock. After one full stroke of the slider resets the shutter, you can advance the film until the next frame number shows in the cartridge window.

The original 1972 Pocket Instamatics were set only for ISO 80 film. (That was the speed of the original Kodacolor II negative film. Kodak labs reportedly push-processed the ISO 64 Kodachrome and Ektachrome slide films slightly to compensate for the underexposure.) If you’re going to bother with reloading cartridges for these cameras, Kodak’s new fine-grained Ektar 100 would seem the best choice. Lomography’s ISO 200 Color Tiger color negative film should work well too; the 1.3-stop overexposure may yield finer grain than exposure at the rated speed. (Lomography’s Peacock slide film will look unacceptably washed-out if it’s processed as slides in E-6 chemistry. But it may benefit from the overexposure if it’s cross-processed as negatives.) Any users of the planned ADOX 400 black and white film would have to process it themselves, so appropriate adjustment of developer time could compensate for the overexposure. ISO 200 or 400 would be a better choice for the cheap meterless cameras that were the last of the 110 breed. That’s probably why Kodak offered the now-discontinued MAX Versatility 400 as the last official 110 film.

Some 110 cameras from the late 1970s have a feeler that detects a little plastic ridge on the right edge of the cartridge. The ridge sets the meter to “low speed,” which Kodak never officially defined but was apparently ISO 80. Kodacolor 400 cartridges of that era lacked this ridge, so they set the meter to “high speed” (also undefined, but probably ISO 400).

For some unknown reason, Kodak’s ISO 400 MAX Versatility 400 cartridges had a ridge. You’ll need to remove it with a nail clipper if you find a cartridge of it and have one of those cameras. The original design of the 110 cartridge included a scheme of small notches on the front of the bottom lip of the cartridge to indicate a range of film speeds. The older 126 cartridge had a similar system. Kodak “notched” their 110 cartridges in the 1970s, but neither Kodak nor any other manufacturer ever made cameras that could read the notches.

D. Scott Young had comprehensive illustrated instructions for reloading the shells of dead “K” batteries with new cells. His Web site devoted to 110 and subminiature cameras has disappeared, but the Internet Archive has a copy of those instructions. To me it looks like more trouble than it’s worth, but it’s the only option if you’re truly intent on using your old Pocket Instamatic.

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